Williams May Skip Tokyo Summer Olympics

Serena Williams (photo: Internazionali BNL D’Italia video)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 11, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

As Serena Williams sat for her first of what could be many virtual press conferences this week in Rome, Italy’s capital city and site of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, on Monday, the 23-time Grand Slam champion made some international headlines by suggesting that she would not participate in this year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics if she’s not allowed to bring her 3-year-old daughter, Olympia, to Japan.

“I haven’t really thought much about that. That’s a really good question,” the 39-year-old Williams, who turns 40 in September, said. “I haven’t spent 24 hours without her, so that kind of answers the question itself. We’re best friends.”


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While fans from foreign countries will not be able to attend the Olympics as a means of helping to lessen the spread of the coronavirus – and Japan has closed its border to more than 150 nations including the United States – athletes are also being discouraged from interacting with non-athletes. What may also be a deal-breaker for the four-time Olympic gold medalist Williams is the rescheduled dates for the Tokyo Summer Olympics. The Olympic tennis tournament commences on July 24, only 14 days following the Wimbledon women’s final, and ends August 1, just 29 days before the start of the US Open.

“I haven’t really thought much about Tokyo, because it was supposed to be last year and now it’s this year, and then there is this pandemic and there is so much to think about,” Williams said. “Then there is the Grand Slams. It’s just a lot.

“So, I really have been taking it one day at a time to a fault, and I definitely need to figure out my next moves.”

Internazionali BNL D’Italia begins its 77th year

The 77th edition of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia – the Italian Open – at Foro Italico is underway just seven months after the 2020 event took place following the restart of the pro tours last summer.

As the Road to Roland Garros continues this week in Rome, the Italian capital city, nine of the WTA’s Top 10 are competing – headlined by three-time 2021 titlist Ashleigh Barty and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka – while the men’s field features 18 of the Top 20, led by nine-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal and five-time champion at Foro Italico Novak Djokovic, who won last year’s title.

For the women, World No. 3 and third seed Simona Halep returns as the defending champion and two-time finalist, who advanced to back-to-back Italian championship matches in 2017 and 2018. Her title defense will begin against either No. 26 Angelique Kerber or 60th-ranked qualifier Alizé Cornet.

Halep was asked Sunday during her pre-tournament virtual press conference if she was surprised by Aryna Sabalenka‘s run to the Mutua Madrid Open title last week, which boosted her into the Top 5 in the new WTA rankings. “No, is not surprising,” she said. “She’s playing great. Very powerful tennis. She has confidence. She can actually do a lot in Grand Slams also, so she’s getting closer to that. She played final in Stuttgart, so it’s not the first result on clay. So, congrats to her. She’s playing really well.

“I think she’s very high with the confidence. I was not surprised, and I’m expecting actually more from her.”

Of particular interest, four-time Rome champion Serena Williams is playing in just her third tournament of the season this week following her semifinal runs at the Yarra Valley Classic and the Australian Open, both in Melbourne back in February. Seeded eighth, she will face either No. 45 Nadia Podoroska of Argentina or 55th-ranked German lucky loser Laura Siegemund in the second round on Wednesday after arriving in Italy following an intensive training block at the Mouratoglou Academy near Nice, France, under the tutelage of her longtime coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

The subject of social media came up at her pre-tournament virtual conference, something which Williams has embraced but hasn’t always felt compelled to use to document her every training move.

“I really try not to get involved in too much of what people say about me, because I feel like it can make you nuts,” Williams said. “Whether it’s good or bad, I don’t really try to think too much of myself in that way at all.

“I think that’s one thing I’m really good at is just to not really even engage so much, but I do feel like, because I don’t do a lot of sport content, I do feel like people are wondering if I’m playing.

“I have to say, ‘I always am, you just don’t see it. I don’t show what I do. I don’t always show my cards.'”

Djokovic prepares for title defense hitting with Murray

Meanwhile, for the men, reigning Rome champion Djokovic has won a record 36 ATP Masters 100 titles and has garnered at least one ATP Masters 1000 clay-court titles in eight of the past 13 seasons, from 2008-20. The World No. 1 Djokovic is seeded first and will get his first taste of action in this year’s Italian Open on Tuesday against No. 31 Taylor Fritz of the United States, whom he has beaten in all three of their previous meetings. No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal will face unseeded Jannik Sinner, ranked 18th, in his first match on Wednesday.

On Monday, Djokovic shared a practice session with Andy Murray of Great Britain. The former World No.1 is training in Rome to prepare for his return to the ATP Tour. They’ve met 36 times on Tour (Djokovic leads their career head-to-head 25-11), so there’s few secrets between them but lots of camaraderie.

“I was very happy to see [Andy],” Djokovic said during his pre-tournament virtual press conference. “I haven’t seen him in a while, and it was great to him with him. I thought he played very well on the court. He moved well, considering it’s clay, which is not the best surface for his hoops. Considering what he has been through lately, I think it seems like he’s been feeling well on the court.

“That’s what he’s saying, and that’s [how] it appears on the court itself. We had a nice chat and had a few laughs on the court as well. It was just great. It brought back the old times when we spent a lot of time on the court together, whether it was training or playing against each other.”

Around the Foro Italico

Among the 12 women’s matches on Monday, a couple stood out for their duration. First, No. 35 Coco Gauff of the United States gutted out a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory over No. 34 Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan that began the day on Pietrangeli and lasted two hours and 57 minutes. The 17-year-old American teenager hit four 48 winners – including four aces – to 44 unforced errors and converted eight break points in 19 opportunities while Putintseva hit 29 winners but committed 39 unforced errors. She broke Gauff seven times in 23 chances. Gauff outpointed Putintseva 110-101 to advance against No. 17 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, who defeated 74th-ranked Slovenian qualifier Polona Hercog, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-2.

The other women’s match that grabbed arguably greater attention was the last one on Center Court at Foro Italico between Italian wild card Camila Giorgi, ranked 83rd, and No. 51 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain. Like the Gauff-Putintseva match, this one also went three sets and not only was the longest women’s match of the season, it’s the sixth longest women’s match of all-time in the Open Era in terms of time on court at three hours and 51 minutes. In the end, it was Sorribes Tormo who prevailed, winning 7-6 (4), 6-7 (7), 7-5. She saved three sets points in the opening set, then came from 0-4 down in the deciding set to win. The victory advanced Sorribes Tormo into the second round against No. 7 seed and Madrid champion Aryna Sabalenka.

Sorribes Tormo persevered through 271 points, winning 143 of them, and hit 20 winners to 43 unforced errors while converting 10 of 16 break points against Giorgi. The Italian was troubled by 12 double faults and 86 unforced errors, which made her 59 winners pale in comparison. She converted nine of 23 break points.

Ahead 6-5 and serving at 40-0, Giorgi hit the sixth shot of what was shaping up to be another long rally wide with her forehand return. In the end, Sorribes Tormo, who earlier this season won her first WTA tour-level title in Guadalajara, showed that anything’s possible if you refuse to lose.

Other women’s winners advancing to the second round include: No. 11 seed Petra Kvitova, No. 13 seed Jennifer Brady and No. 15 seed Iga Swiatek.

Monday’s WTA Italian Open results

Meanwhile on the men’s side, Italy’s NextGenATP rising star Jannik Sinner set up a second-round showdown with World No. 2 and second seed Rafael Nadal following his 20th match win of the season. It came against No. 32 Ugo Humbert of France, whom Sinner beat 6-2, 6-4 in 90 minutes on Center Court during the afternoon session. Sinner hit 14 winners and won 13 out 15 points in rallies that went nine or more shots. In last year’s French Open quarterfinals, Nadal beat Sinner, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-1.

On Sunday, Sinner was asked how much of a difference does it make going into a tournament in which he’s played in before as well as familiarity with the surroundings. He said: “Here in Rome, you know, especially for [an] Italian player, it’s like a home tournament. At the end of the day people know you a little better. 

“It’s just unfortunate that the first rounds, there is no crowd. But, it’s good to be back. For me, it’s one of the most beautiful tournaments that we are going to play on each year. It’s nice to be here. I like the conditions.”

Other winners advancing to the second round include: Italian wild card Lorenzo Musetti, ranked 82nd, who advanced when No. 15 seed Hubert Hurkacz retired early in the second set after Musetti led 6-4, 2-0; as well as Marin Cilic, Cristian Garin, Kei Nishikori and Aslan Karatsev.

Monday’s ATP Italian Open results

Tuesday’s Italian Open order of play

By the numbers

What they’re saying

Canada’s No. 21 Felix Auger-Aliassime, who beat No. 39 Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4, to advance to Tuesday’s second round against No. 8 seed Diego Schwartzman, on overcoming adversity: “You’ve got to believe and be resilient at times. You know, I wanted to win badly, so I dug in deep and I found a way, So, I’m happy I was able to find a way in the end with all the circumstances.”

The day in photographs and video